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Chapter 19: Dark Redemption

Chapter 19: Dark Redemption

in which it all goes to Hell. Sort of.

She is 12 again, but it doesn't surprise her or bother her in the least. It is the last season she is wearing her "kiddie" pajamas; it is already pretty tight in certain places, but she has not got around to asking for a new one in the middle of the year. She has been growing so slowly until just recently, after all. As usual, she is putting off actually going to bed. Instead, she and Joachim are watching TV in the smaller TV room, the one in the back of the first floor, the room with the half finished fireplace. After they moved the old TV in there, and bought the second VCR, it became the kids' semi-official TV room. The program they wanted to see has ended, and she is just lazying on the big old couch, procrastinating. Joachim is growing restless, which makes it all the more fun.

"You cannot go to sleep here!"


"You know we have to sleep in our beds or we won't be rested for school!"

"Mmm..." She buries her face in a soft couch pillow.

"If you don't get up, I will have to carry you to your room!"

"Mmm." They have been lifting and carrying each other sometimes before, but it's been a while. Quite a while really. She stubbornly keeps her eyes closed.

"OK, if that's the way you want it..."

This time she doesn't answer, just keeps herself flat as a pancake and her face hidden in the pillows. It is the way she wants it. It is very much the way she wants it. In her mind there is no bedtime and no school tomorrow. There is only the moment, the warm softness of the couch, and the joy of teasing Joachim.

And when Joachim starts to pull at both her legs, she makes herself as heavy as she can. He struggles for a while, pulling her knees, her thighs and eventually her hips off the couch and over his shoulder. And even though her heart is beating, she is not doing anything except making herself as heavy and limp as possible. She is genuinely curious as to whether he will be able to get to his feet. She has grown, after all. But so has he, and he manages to stagger to his feet with her over his shoulder, holding her tight with both arms. And then everything changes. She knows what should happen next, that he should carry her through the corridor to her room and dump her on her bed and say goodnight, his face red and flush with heat from the heavy work, and her face the same even though she did not carry anything. She knows they should go on with their lives and not mention it ever again. That is the world that should be. And then the world unravels.

Standing outside herself, she sees the change. She sees Joachim's body stretch and change and grow at the same time as her own body changes and grows to the age of 15 and beyond. She sees his one hand move to a place where it should not be. And then as she watches, unable to even breathe, the skin and flesh of the hand shrivel and fall off. All over, his clothes rot and fall off; his skins blackens and cracks; his flesh melts and runs off him. She wants to scream, but she is no longer in her body; it just hangs there, oblivious to the changes. And then the skeletal carrier begins to sink through the floor, as if burdened by a weight heavier than any of this world. Still carrying her, he sinks through the earth, while he tries to walk forward. There is a transition, and they are in caves that are sloping downward toward Hell. Red flickering flames can be seen far ahead, and moving shapes among the fires. And still he trudges on, as if oblivious to his fate, and hers. There is no expression on that skull-face. She averts her eyes each time they seek it.

Something changes again. And suddenly their way is blocked. Hanging in the air before them, his feet not touching the ground, is Jon. An aura of black fire billows around him, and his eyes are cast in deep shadow. But it is him. Confronted this way, the skeleton finally stops. And then it speaks, in Joachim's 15 years old voice: "Mine! You cannot have her!"

Jon does not answer. He floats closer, and reaches out a hand. The dark fire surrounds it, and the moment it touches Joachim, he bursts into flames. Dark, cold flames. In moments, he becomes dust and ashes that fall to the ground. Jon catches Anne-Linn in his arms, holding her easily like a child. But he is focusing on the falling ashes that accumulate on the ground, and intones: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!"

And rising from the ashes is a bright outline, taking the shape of Joachim. Half transparent, yet glowing, he spreads his arms in a wordless but glorious display of freedom as he begins to rise out of the ashes, out of the darkness, out of Hell. Indeed, the subterranean world fades around them all, and they stand together, Jon and her, hand in hand on the grass, watching her brother's ascent to Heaven. Silent tears run down her face.

The tears were still running when she woke up.